"The hardest thing about having a baby alone isn't doing it, but deciding to do it''
In advance of her webchat with us on Thursday 9th August at 9pm, Emma Brockes talks about her new book, An Excellent Choice: Panic and Joy on My Solo Path to Motherhood, in which she discusses her decision to go it alone and become a single parent. Post questions here in advance, or join in when the webchat starts
Author and journalist
Posted on: Mon 06-Aug-18 12:57:00
(70 comments )
I grew up in a traditional two-parent household, with a dad who worked and a stay-at-home mum. It was the late 1980s and the wilder fringes of feminism had yet to reach central Buckinghamshire. In secondary school I can recall a single kid whose parents were divorced, and no one's mother did anything as bizarre as working full-time or travelling down to London on business. We were, nonetheless, encouraged to look beyond marriage as a goal.
Twenty years later I found myself, at the age of 37, single (or sort-of-single) and it didn't seem like a big deal at all. Most of my friends were single professional women and although the dating scene in New York was the stuff of horror movies (men didn't so much date women as audition them for the star role in their future) I didn't care. I had a good job, good friends and a good life. But then suddenly, none of that mattered.
Of all the surprising things that have happened to me in the last five years, starting with conceiving twins and ending with the discovery that single parenthood is, in some ways, easier than the alternative, the thing that still surprises me most is the shame.
I felt ashamed of wanting children; it felt like a feminist failure. I felt ashamed of looking at a childless future and feeling horrified. I felt ashamed of my secret belief that having kids alone was preferable to having them with the person I was seeing. And when all this shame got too much for me, I felt ashamed of the way I consoled myself, looking around for people in worse situations than mine and telling myself at least I'm not them.
With any luck, I thought I'd squeak in with a baby at just under 40 - good. But I was a single woman - bad. I was in a sort-of relationship - good. But we didn't want to do it together - weird. Also, it was same sex - bad. On the other hand, having a kid via sperm donor was more 'natural' than an egg donor, which was more 'natural' than surrogacy, which was more 'natural' than adoption, which was more 'natural' than no children at all - a domino run that ended at the foot of a towering black tombstone marked 'childless spinster'.
The idea that it might not have happened because I was too frightened or hung up on what other people might think strikes me like a shard of glass to the heart.
I knew these comparisons were spiteful, just as I knew that by focusing on them I was appealing for relief from the very thing that was causing me harm. But still I kept doing it.
It all seems completely irrational to me now, as does worrying about picking the 'right' sperm donor - how would picking the 'wrong' one be provable, unless one really didn't take to one's child? Then there was the fear that I wouldn't be able to cope alone with a baby. Would it be too hard or too weird or too stigmatising? What if it didn't work? What if it did work? Looking back, I realise that the hardest thing about having a baby alone isn't doing it, but deciding to do it.
And so here I am: a single mother of twins, conceived after taking too many drugs on the fifth cycle of IUI (that's results-driven American healthcare for you), either a role model for women wanting to have kids alone, or a walking example of be careful what you wish for. And if it is nothing like I imagined, it's not because it's hard or terrifying, or wonderful or infuriating, but because it's all these things and therefore miraculously ordinary.
I also know I'm extremely privileged. There is nothing in the data to suggest that children of single mothers by choice turn out any less happy or well-adjusted than those from traditional two-parent families. That is almost certainly down to the fact that women electing to have kids on their own tend to come from relatively prosperous households. I am always exhausted and frequently broke, but I can just about afford enough help to allow me to work to pay for that help, and as such know how lucky I am.
There are things I'll never have. I'll never have to deal with a trailing ex-spouse. I'll never have a custody suit. I'll never have to balance my baggage from childhood with his or her baggage from their childhood as it pertains to the way we raise our children. I will never have the joy of looking into my child's face and seeing reflected in it the face of the man I love, or feel the deep satisfaction of raising a child with a woman whose investment in the outcome is equal to mine.
And while it is a truism of single motherhood by choice that there is no one to resent - in my experience there is always someone to resent - doing it alone does make life easier in some ways. I can make up my mind more quickly. There's nothing more pleasing to single parents than watching a couple with a baby try to arrive at a decision: ''Should we take his temperature? What do you think? No, what do you think?'' There is a satisfaction to be had in doing something hard and doing it well. And because it was a struggle to have my girls, not medically so much as existentially and emotionally, I am never not grateful or amazed.
Besides which, 'alone' isn't quite the right word. Without a co-parent by one's side, you tend to curate your support network - friends, parents, neighbours - with much more care and attention, and these people have become family in ways they might not have done had I had kids in a couple.
Thank God I live in an age in which these things are possible. Thank God I got the juice up to act, and thank God the drugs worked. The idea that it might not have happened because I was too frightened or inhibited or hung up on what other people might think strikes me like a shard of glass to the heart. There are lots of things to say about having kids on one's own, but I look at my children and it comes down to this: thank God, thank God, thank God.''
Emma Brockes is the author of An Excellent Choice: Panic and Joy on My Solo Path to Motherhood (Faber, £16.99 hardback). She joins us here on the bottom of this guest post for a webchat on Thursday 9th August at 9pm. Post your questions here in advance if you can’t make it on the day.
By Emma Brockes
Twitter: @emmabrockes | @faberbooks
Congratulations on your two children .
Is it possible to repost without the strikethrough?
I once had a neighbour who was pursuing IVF on her own. She did not get on with any of the neighbours and frequently started arguments.
She chose to live in a top floor flat in the city centre with two dogs, 15min walk away she could have purchased a house with a garden. It was sad watching her dogs looking longingly out of the window all day.
She did not have visitors and worked from home, she was doing well financially.
Prior to meeting her I never questioned the idea of pursuing parenthood alone. After meeting her I really felt sorry for any possible child of hers. The child would be an individual too and she was clearly incapable of putting others needs ahead of her own or compromising with others.
Do you think that sometimes individuals pursuing solo parenting make controlling/overbearing parents?
Just to be clear I respect that sometimes relationships break down and sometimes single sex couples pursue IUI/IVF, I'm also not questioning people who foster/adopt as single people. I'm specifically questioning people who have been unable to maintain friendships/ familial relationships/ romantic relationships.
I chose to be a single mum too and one of the biggest things for me was the stigma surrounding it. It has been the best decision of my life by a million. I agree with so many of the points you make wrt life as a single mum. Well done for speaking out and starting to end the stigma
I know lots of single mothers by choice peaches. I know very few who conform to that offensive stereotype thankfully
I was just talking about an individual, I'd hate to stereotype.
But having said that I'm sure my opinion is coloured by having a controlling parent myself.
I know someone who has done this successfully but I really would caution to think seriously about your support network because if you have no family or they are far away and friends with their own responsibilities it will be hard alone.
And do NOT under any circumstances have two embryos put back regardless of age. Parenting twins with two people is almost hell on earth and with one parent it would push you to a breakdown.
I grew up without a father heavily involved in my life. I had a half father who saw me occasionally after my parents separated when I was two. It was his decision not to see me (I tried to see him as a teen).
I missed having a father figure in my life dreadfully, but equally I think this was caused by his specific absence and rejection rather than not having a figure there at all. I believe I would have been happier had he not existed in the framework at all. Nevertheless, I wonder whether some children would crave the ‘traditional’ family model...I doubt it, however, perhaps it is best to ask children who have grown up in differing family settings themselves. From my personal experience, it caused me deep unhappiness as a child and I resent the unchosen single parent route being glorified by some who wish not to shame single mothers but also don’t recognise the challenges. [The last statement is not directed at this article but is a generalisation].
I think I am more scared of the decision rather than the consequences of the decision
I have read that you were (are?) in a same sex relationship, do you think that makes it easier?
I struggle that I am heterosexual and alone at 40 and this is my only option, even that option might be closed to me.
I think perhaps if you’re mother had chosen to have you with a donor then it might have been very different for you.
I think people who chose that route are hyper aware of their choices and how those choices affect their child.
Erm yes very glad you are happy but I have some initial thoughts.
1.. you care far too much about what other people think about you and your doings
2.. most people couldn’t give a shiny shite about your choices. And I am not being mean just factual
3.. I was a Young mum in the late 80s,and I have no experience of Buckinghamshire, but where I lived in rural Worcester most mums worked. some part time some full time. Our kids went to nursery or CMs. I don’t recognise your description of those times unless your mean 1970s? I had mum friends who were lawyers, doctors etc.
I, like the vast majority of SMC's think it was the best thing I ever did. LeahJack twins are very common among SMC's. They cope.
Why is there so much negativity about choosing to do it alone.
I didn’t decide to be a single/lone parent, but have been since he was born. I read a lot on here about the ups and downs, the great things about being a lone parent, and there are many. But no1 ever talks about being ill. I’m not even talkin cancer and serious illnesses, I’m talkin the flu, a broken leg after a car crash, needing a operation. When people talk about support networks these are the things you need to think about. I’ve got loads of people who could and have watched my son while I have a tooth out or something simple, but 2/3 night hospital stay and I’d be screwed. My son is almost 12 and it still worries me
Studyinghell I'm not a SPC either - I left my DS' abusive father when he was 3. 18 months later I needed an operation. Since then I've had 8 more ops and several hospital stays. DS is 11 now. I have my DParents and DSis & BIL for support, as well as lovely friends who bring me food and do my laundry when I'm recovering.
As such, now I'm on the wrong side of 35 and single, I'm looking at SPC as an option. DS would love a sibling and having done it alone for 8 years I feel prepared and able. Everyone around me is very supportive, apart from DM, who seems to feel quite a bit of shame for having and unmarried single Mum for a daughter. She honestly thinks I won't manage and women "need a man" to help them. Despite all the overwhelming support, her opinion is currently stopping me from persuing this. I work, earn well, run a household and have the money to pay for IUI, but am still cowed by one opinion. I'm still holding out to meet someone and have a baby that way. Fertility runs late in my family (there have been a few post 40 'accidents'), so fingers crossed!
Oh the “shame” of being unmarried, people who aren’t in the situation honestly believe the stigma is gone. But it’s not. It’s awful. I never got that from family/friends, but schools and doctors. At first I couldn’t work out if it was that, or that I was a young mum. But I deedpolled to a mrs. You’re lucky @TittyFahLaEtcetera that you have people around who you know would/could step in if your ill, I really wish I had that, if I did I would of probably had another kid alone
I think you should go for it TittyFahLaEtcetera I think the best thing you can do for a kid is give them a sibling plus you must really know what you're doing now and have a support network in place. I'm glad you took your baby away from an abusive father x
You could just say your dh is in Mossad and thereby cannot come to any appointments.
That’ll shut them up
Your DC at the most are 5 years old ... come back in 13 years and say the hardest part was deciding to go it alone
Personally I think it's very sad and a loss for a child that their female parent has chosen for them not to have a dad
The vast majority of people have dad's and good dads are wonderful supportive models of 'maleness' and provide love and balance.
The absence of Fathers is a real issue and behind many behavioural problems for some boys.
I don't know what the answer is. But or this reason I would never choose to have a fatherless child. I appreciate life often has other ideas though.
I don’t doubt the decision was hard, but do doubt it was harder than aspects of parenting will be, although the first few years of twins is no picnic so I guess you can look back on your experience and know!
Retro attitudes from a PP: OP didn’t choose for her DC not to have a dad - she wasn’t in a relationship with a man, or a woman who she wished to coparent with. It was a choice between becoming a (single) parent in an unconventional way or not being a parent.
@eightfacesofthemoon did you grow up with a traditional family? Even if mum and dad separated.
I'm imagining you did, I could be wrong, but I yearned for a family like my friends. It was and is a big factor in who I am and how I live my life. Frankly I'm likely more independent and successful as a result, but it's through fear, not skill. It's fear from lack of lack of financial support that wasn't possible with having a single mum and non involved dad. Ive always felt I had to be responsible because no one else will be for me. No one else's can financially support me, I bought my first car, I bought my first flat at 20 (every penny), I provide money for my mum and siblings all the time.
Having IVF and going it alone on a single parent journey is very grave, but also maybe selfish as that child may yearn like I did, for 2 involved parents.
That said I'm a single mum, dad is involved and I push constantly for more involvement which was few and far between when we separated 2 years ago, and is now around 70/30 thankfully.